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As LifeMed Plane Still Lingers In Unalaska Bay, Resolve Marine Prepares For Recovery

Courtesy of Cole Corbett

The U.S. Coast Guard has reported a fuel sheen about 50 feet wide and 1,500 feet long in Unalaska Bay where a LifeMed medevac plane went into the water Thursday morning.

The King Air Beechcraft aircraft went down about 100 feet northwest of the end of the Unalaska Airport runway with a LifeMed pilot, paramedic, and nurse on board. All three were rescued from a life raft and sustained no serious injuries.

The air ambulance crew was on their way to pick up a medevac patient in Adak. LifeMed confirmed a different air carrier was able to pick up the patient. 

The amount of Jet A fuel released into the water at the crash site is still unknown. The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) said up to 500 gallons could have spilled into Unalaska Bay, which is home to several federally listed endangered species including Steller sea lions, Northern sea otters, and Steller's eiders.

Credit Courtesy of Cole Corbett
The LifeMed medevac plane went into the water about 100 feet northwest of the end of the Unalaska Airport runway with a LifeMed pilot, paramedic, and nurse on board.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADFG) said sea otters and various sea birds including harlequin ducks, glaucous gulls, cormorants, and a pigeon guillemot were observed in the vicinity of the spill late Thursday night, but that most were observed to be at least 2,000 feet from the spill and did not appear to be covered in fuel or affected by the fuel release. 

Bernie Nowicki has been supervisor for the Aleutian Western Alaska unit of the DEC for seven years. He said there could be some impacts to Hog Island, based on wind direction.  

"In my time and tenure in this position, this is the first time this has happened," said Nowicki. "Typically what we see out there is sheening from propulsion fuel, diesel fuel, and reports of diesel fuel spills. And they vary, but nothing of this magnitude, at least for me to date."

Resolve Marine has been contracted by the owner of the aircraft – Aero Air – and will be staging a barge and crane to recover the plane. The dive team has planned to deploy as early as Jan. 18 to plug the fuel vents and prepare the aircraft to be raised, weather permitting. When the plane is recovered, the fuel volume remaining in the aircraft will be used to estimate the size of the release, according to the DEC.

"The plane has been located and is sitting in 50 feet of water," said the DEC in a statement. "There is no effective location to place boom to contain the fuel. Divers will secure fuel vents as able."

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the cause of the crash.

Hope McKenney is a public radio news director, reporter, producer and host based in the Aleutian Islands, Alaska.
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